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Getting good data from surveys

The Marshall City Council on Tuesday voted to pay the consulting firm Baker Tilly $21,500 to conduct a phone survey targeting residents to collect feedback of potential projects such as upgrading or replacing the Aquatic Center.

Surveys are typically used by government entities before making a decision on major projects — especially expensive projects that require increased taxes. School districts will use surveys to help bolster their argument for voters to pass referendums on building new school buildings.

Surveys are helpful to make decisions, but are no way always 100% accurate — hence “margin of error” labels on political polling. Remember the polling that predicted a big victory for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election. A lot of people were surprised the day after the election that Donald Trump was the winner.

And so there are advantages and disadvantages when conducting phone surveys.

Most people have phones and the surveys can gather data quickly. A phone interview is also more personable than online or mail surveys. And the phone interviews are less costly.

But there are also a few drawbacks. Many times people perceive calls from numbers they don’t recognize as a telemarketer and they just won’t answer them. And timing is everything — people work all types of hours and typically won’t take the time to take a phone survey while at the workplace. Some people just don’t want to take the time to answer questions on a phone.

Baker Tilly told the Council that it’s hoping to talk to at least 300 people.

“We can have a pretty high level of confidence we are getting an accurate picture of people’s feelings,” the Baker Tilly representative said at the meeting.

Mayor Bob Byrnes was sold on the idea stating that a survey would be a way to get “good data.”

However, council member Russ Labat voted against the expenditure. Before the vote, Labat expressed concerns over residents actually answering an “800 number.”

For what it’s worth, the Independent conducted its own pool poll back in January on marshallindependent.com . More than 400 people casted votes, with more than half in favor of replacing the present Aquatic Center. Not exactly a scientific poll, but it does get the point across. Many residents agree that a public pool plays an important role in a thriving community. And the pool will need to be replaced at some point down the road. And there are other viable projects the city needs to consider.

We are hoping the city gets a good return on its $21,500 investment.

If you get the call — don’t hang up.

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